Harry Styles is the main face of yet another movie release this year, this time in his first turn as a leading man. “My Policeman,” which was released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, Nov. 4, is based on the novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts. Directed by Michael Grandage, the movie follows Tom Burgess (Harry Styles), a policeman in 1950s Brighton, England, who marries school teacher Marion Taylor (Emma Corrin) while trying to maintain his secret relationship with museum curator Patrick Hazlewood (David Dawson). While the three are all friends at first, Marion soon grows suspicious of the close relationship between Tom and Patrick and eventually discovers their secret.
The film is Styles’ second major movie of the year following “Don’t Worry Darling,” which was directed by Olivia Wilde and released earlier in 2022. While his fans may certainly rejoice at the prospect of seeing Styles as the face of “My Policeman,” his performance, along with the story itself, leaves much to be desired and is a disappointing tale of queer love at best.
The film is told in flashbacks, going back and forth from the past in the 1950s to the present as an older Tom (Linus Roache) and Marion (Gina McKee) have taken Patrick (Rupert Everett) into their home to care for him. The cuts back to the trio’s younger selves reveal that Tom and Patrick were in a secret relationship while Tom and Marion started dating, with the movie’s intended tension meant to come from the prospect of this queer relationship at a time when homosexuality was illegal.
However, the movie makes it impossible to feel any sort of compassion or empathy for any of the characters besides Patrick. The story paints Marion as the victim of her husband’s sexuality, leading her to anonymously call in a tip that results in Patrick’s arrest and imprisonment. Rather than conveying any emotions about the horrific treatment of his lover, Styles shows no real emotion in either his body language or his line delivery. Tom tells Marion they should forget about the whole thing and go on with their lives, leading Marion to become guilt-ridden in old age and take care of Patrick.
Of the sadly growing number of movies now in Styles’ filmography, this is easily the one that shows that his talents are much better put to use on a stage than on screen. Of the trio of characters at the heart of the film, Styles’ acting is obviously the weakest, delivering lines in almost the same tone of voice and making it very difficult to care about Tom. Dawson is a standout among the cast, endowing his portrayal of Patrick with deep emotion and heart, and it is only through him that the audience finds any sort of emotional attachment—no matter how small—to the film’s story. Corrin does a fine job with what they can, having essentially no chemistry on screen with Styles to work off of, but it’s difficult to really care for Marion in the face of her decision to call the police on Patrick.
Grandage’s direction is also confusing at times, with strange cuts and lingering shots throughout the film that feel unnecessary. The back and forth between the past and present certainly builds suspense, but also comes across as occasionally interruptive and confusing to the pacing of the movie.
While the film was advertised as a gay period romance about the difficulties of forbidden love, it ultimately finds itself flopping in its attempts to be a valuable addition to the growing field of queer cinema. Given that Dawson is a part of the LGBTQ+ community and Corrin identifies as queer and non-binary, the choice of Styles to head “My Policeman” instead of another openly queer actor remains baffling. It is especially hard to accept that Styles was selected to be the film’s leading man after a recent interview he gave leading up to the film’s release that became infamous for his comments on presentations of gay sex in movies.
“So much of gay sex in film is two guys going at it, and it kind of removes the tenderness from it,” Styles said in an interview with IndieWire. “There will be, I would imagine, some people who watch it who were very much alive during this time when it was illegal to be gay, and [Grandage] wanted to show that it’s tender and loving and sensitive.”
Styles’ opinions on queer cinema have become especially ironic following the release of this movie, where his sex scenes with Patrick don’t convey much emotion and focus instead on just showing bare skin and hearing Styles moan. The film falls short, to put it mildly, in capturing real tenderness, especially when other queer films like Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island,” released earlier this year in June, are able to both show gay sex on screen while maintaining an emotionally compelling and unique story. Even going years back, 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain” included a short, now infamous sex scene in a tent that still managed to be more moving than any of the sexual content in “My Policeman.”
Perhaps “My Policeman” would have been even the slightest bit more bearable if only Styles was capable of conveying even a small part of the tenderness captured in gay films like “God’s Own Country” or “Holding the Man,” if he had simply tried to realize what emotional purpose sex scenes can have in queer movies, or if he was able to perform at the level of the seasoned actors in the cast. In 2022, while it remains critical to learn about and highlight LGBTQ+ history, the choice to tell the story of a gay man who ends up in prison and then spends the rest of the film as an older man being completely ignored by his former lover feels unnecessarily painful in the face of the countless other queer stories and characters that could be shown on the big screen instead.
Jem Shin can be reached at email@example.com.